Lydia de Roca started selling lechon at a tiny stall not too far from Baclaran Church when she was a young girl. She was so confident about the irresistible crunch of the balat (skin), as well as the taste of the succulent flesh, that she went ahead and called her small store “Lydia’s”. She was all of 19.
Fast forward to more than half a century later, Lydia’s Lechon (Lydia’s) is now an institution in our local restaurant scene. It’s the lechon counterpart of Max’s and Aristocrat, which are known for their chicken dishes. All three are Filipino family favorites and are iconic. While evoking nostalgia, Lydia’s is showing no signs of slowing down as it gears up towards its sixth decade in the business. The brand, now a chain, boasts of 25 restaurants with a very strong presence in the food courts, and stand-alone spaces in Quezon City, Marikina, and yes, Baclaran, where the small stall has become a landmark.
Also, the brand is getting a millennial facelift. The larger restaurants, starting with the branch on Marcos Highway, are now Instagram ready: gorgeous photographs of lechon line the interiors. Gone are the plain white walls, replaced by emerald green and sunny orange wallpaper that give the restaurants a dynamic new vibe. There’s even flashy neon décor. Everything looks brand new. It’s no secret that de Roca embraces change and innovation, and this is also a big factor in Lydia’s (both the woman and the brand) success and longevity.
In the 1970s, Lydia’s had become a byword among Filipino foodies. No party or celebration was considered complete without a catered Lechon from Lydia’s, especially among the rich and famous in showbiz and politics. But when de Roca had the brilliant idea of stuffing her lechon with rice — and not just any rice — but with Paella Valenciana, the popularity of Lydia’s exploded! Imagine, receiving a gift of a lechon, in itself already a festive present, and upon chopping it, aromatic and colorful seafood paella, with shrimps, mussels, and squid spills out along with the saffron-yellow rice? Decades after its introduction, it still is de Roca’s bestselling lechon.
And now, that Paella-stuffed Lechon can be ordered using the Lydia’s smartphone app, available on Apple and Android devices. Just choose your preferred size, be it a quarter, half, or why not a whole lechon? Ordering becomes easy and precise, and delivery, fast and on-time. And if you’d like to have lechon for a party, but you’re in an office where there are no cleavers or chopping boards, opt for Lydia’s Lechon-in-a-Box. The meat is already chopped up for your convenience and then covered with a carpet of crispy skin. The innovations just keep on coming.
The founder is in her seventies now, but she’s as spry and sturdy as she’s ever been. When we asked her to do the ceremonial chopping of her lechon, we were struck speechless by the power of her strokes. It was like watching Thor throw down his hammer. She really showed us how it’s done. 55 years on, Nanay Lydia and her brand are stronger than ever.
For more information, visit Lydia’s Lechon official Facebook page.